Despite several positive trends, Whistler RCMP's 2012 report presented to council Tuesday (March 5) showed a significant increase in reported domestic violence in the community over the past year.
Between January and December 2012, there were 38 incidents of domestic violence reported in the resort, a 73 per cent increase that Staff Sgt. Steve LeClair attributes partially to the RCMP's "more fastidious record keeping that identified more domestic assaults" in 2012.
LeClair said that last year he believes some incidents of domestic abuse were recorded as assaults, but the rise could also simply mean that "there just happened to be more (incidents) in 2012 than 2011." He explained that in many cases domestic violence was reported by visitors to the resort, making it "difficult for Whistler as a community to affect any social change for somebody who comes up here for a weekend."
The rise in incidents was of concern to Coun. Andrée Janyk, who said "it's something as a community we need to be aware of and perhaps give our young people a little bit of guidance."
The Howe Sound Women's Centre's community program manager Shana Murray said she thinks more people are reporting incidents of domestic abuse in Whistler because "the cases are maybe getting a little bit more serious. What will often happen if a woman is living in an abusive relationship for quite some time is the violence escalates to the point where the alarm bells start going off."
She thinks women in Whistler might be more reluctant to report incidents or seek counselling early on in a relationship because they're unaware of or don't have access to the local services available to them.
Murray was on hand Tuesday to request $20,000 in funding as part of the municipality's Community Enrichment Program. If allocated, the funds will go towards operational costs at the Whistler Women's Drop-in Centre and expanding the Howe Sound Centre's Children Who Witness Abuse Counselling Program. In 2012, the program assisted 31 youth and their families throughout Whistler and Pemberton.
Overall Whistler police respond to 6,048 calls for service in 2012. Incidents of violent crime rose from 200 in 2011 to 236 in 2012, an 18 per cent jump attributed mostly to an increase in assaults and sexual assaults. There were no reported murders or armed robberies in 2012.
Assaults in Whistler are often "alcohol-fuelled," said LeClair, "a function of being a resort community where we have several nightclubs and people entering onto the stroll at night after they've consumed alcohol."
There were 15 reported incidents of sexual assault, up from six in 2011. Of the 15 cases, eight suspects have been identified and charges have been recommended. Many of the cases, LeClair explained, involved individuals "attempting to grab somebody, or (it's) a groping type (incident) in a nightclub."
One incident of sexual assault recorded last year was reported eight months after the offence took place, and another was reported four years later, said LeClair, following the release of a composite sketch of a suspect in late 2012.
Property crime remained steady in 2012, with only a slight increase compared to the previous year's numbers. There was, however, a 49 per cent jump in residential break-ins, the majority of which involved the theft of small items from homes where a door was left unlocked.
"It appears that people were entering via unlocked patio doors and stealing small items like iPads and cellphones, sometimes while the occupants were in the residence upstairs," said LeClair. "We've made some headway in those investigations."
Theft under and over $5,000, as well as motor vehicle theft, remained relatively steady in 2012. Theft from vehicles rose from 67 incidents to 102 incidents in 2012, but LeClair attributes that hike largely to two individual offenders who have since been arrested.
There was also an 11 per cent increase in stolen bicycles in the resort, a "high priority" concern for local RCMP who have instituted a bike bait program that has proved successful in the past, said LeClair. Officers have also identified known bicycle thieves and have had some success in arresting and charging them.
Another area of concern in the 2012 stats is the 51 per cent increase in missing persons in the past year. There were 77 persons reported missing in 2012, although all of these cases have since been resolved.
Rental fraud is also a growing issue in Whistler, especially on Craigslist, with a 24 per cent increase in reported incidents.
"It's difficult to logistically investigate those offences when not much has occurred in Whistler, except this is where the victim finds that he or she have been duped," said LeClair.
Despite an increase in certain criminal offences, local RCMP efforts to reduce the number of individuals housed in local cells have paid off with only 434 prisoners logged last year, down from 685 in 2011.
"We are trying to find alternatives to putting people in our cells, (like) finding a responsible adult to take care of them," LeClair said.
During Tuesday's presentation, Coun. John Grills asked if RCMP could include crime statistics over several years to give a better indication of long-term trends. Staff Sgt. LeClair said that he will consider it for next year's report, noting that Whistler's Olympic year in 2010 was an anomaly, with a higher number of criminal incidents, and should not be factored into the resort's overall crime trends.
For the head of Whistler's RCMP detachment, there were some positives out of last year's report.
"In a high percentage of cases, we've identified suspects and/or laid charges," he said. "Our serious assaults have been solved, so there's good work being done in relation to that. Moving forward, I'm looking to reducing these numbers in the future."